My country is still going nuts, and the grand amicus hearing regarding the impeachment of our Chief Justice and idol of the youth is set on November 5. That means I’m still neck-deep in research regarding Constitutional Law, down to James Madison and John Marshall. Bah, I have barely even enjoyed the post-Mirrodin supremacy of”The Deck”!
Of course, I took a peek at the New Orleans Coverage and got my surprise of the year, and I still don’t know whether or not it was pleasant.
Before I share my thoughts, I’d like to quote an article written around December 1998, something that has been on my mind since Mirrodin rolled in:
Turn 3 Kills in Type II, Cathy Nicoloff, Team Legion, from TheDojo.com
I feel so old.
I used to say that the inclusion of more sets in an environment tilted the balance towards control decks. The more cards you can play with, the more of those game wreckers you can have in your deck, right? That was the theory.
Boy do I feel sheepish. That’s so Old School.
Anyone with half a brain these days knows that with just four expansions in an environment, you can build a deck that kills your opponent with a land that kills your opponent before they can Armageddon.
So no worries. Armageddon used to be broken. Now it is not.
Anything with a casting cost of four is far too slow to actually play with unless it’s the final piece of a combo. I’m donating my Armageddons to the Antique Magic Player Museum in Renton. I’ll send along my Wrath of Gods, my Icy Manipulators, and my Moats, too.
So what will Wizards think when they get an envelope full of the old-timer power cards along with my disgusted”I give up”?
They will think,”Let’s make another 2UU Counterspell in the next set.”
Manuel Bevand, Raphael Levy and their mutual friend Jean-Baptiste Mathieu represented Team Legion in the French Team Cup. The rules of the French Cup dictated that the team could only play with four copies of any single card among all their decks.
So naturally, the team built two turn three kill combo decks with their pool of cards. Raphael played RandomTurnThreeCombo.dec. JB played RandomTurnThreeCombo.dec but with different cards. Manuel didn’t know what to play.
He said to me at one point that he had considered playing mono red, but decided against it, but decided against it. He said that after taking many test draws, he had determined that the mono red couldn’t win before turn 4.
And then he said,”That’s too slow.” (Let that sentiment sink in for a second.)
So he played Hatred. His reason? Hatred could sometimes win by turn three. All the other decks in the environment won on turn 3. His only chance was to go first and Dark Ritual out a Hatred.
The French Cup was heavily attended. Manuel said there were around a hundred teams. Almost every single team played an Academy Deck.
That’s a lot of $20 rares in one room!
For the first time in Magic history, it looks like ten-minute chess clocks would be viable. Hell, every deck but mono red would have time to spare. Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?
Now here’s the part where I reveal my antiqueness, if I haven’t made it apparent already. I remember when Wrath of God used to be a good card. Shocking, eh?
Now it’s practically not even worth having in your rare binder. Tapping out on turn four to cast a spell that costs 2WW is either suicide or worthless. Suicide if your opponent casts Ball Lightning next turn. Worthless if you’re playing against one of an increasing number of decks based entirely around recursive combos and little to no creatures.
Another piece of ancient wisdom from the Old School: Combo decks are unreliable because they require three to four cards to be in play at the same time.
Pass me my aluminum walker! The new students of Magic are turning around and laughing in the face of such”wisdom.” Four-card combos are easy as pie.
Since when are they easy as pie? Since the point in time starting with the dominance of mono red. Right after Necro Summer 1996.
As far as I can tell, the original”Sligh” was a Necropotence hoser deck. It was about half as powerful as it would be during the reign of Visions. It had cards in it that Wizards considered too”undercosted.” Cards like Lightning Bolt and Brass Man. (Never mind that those cards were later replaced by Fireblast and Jackal Pup and Mogg Fanatic!)
Then something went terribly wrong. Despite mono red’s really junky creatures, Visions turned the heat up by giving the deck a potent weapon against every conceivable deck type: Fireblast. I guess Wizards thought that the 4RR casting cost of Fireblast made it balanced.
I don’t think I know a single person who ever actually paid mana for that spell. If they did, they followed it up with three more free Fireblasts.
So suddenly it was really dangerous to tap out. It was hardest on control decks, who had only late-game threats and therefore had to dodge Fireblast death for twelve or so turns with only countermagic between them and the rotisserie. It really didn’t help that countermagic cost mana and Fireblast didn’t.
Then Alliances rotated out, taking with it two of the last three remaining decent counterspells in Type 2 that cost UU or less: Arcane Denial and Force of Will. Thus began the era of three- and four-mana counterspells and situational countermagic. Memory Lapse? Good sometimes. Disrupt? Power Sink? Mana Leak? Force Spike? All good sometimes, none good all the time.
So blue took many steps back. All its countermagic became either expensive or easily evaded. All of red’s threats became deadly and super-cheap. Instead of Wrathing away turn 1 Brass Men, a typical blue/white control deck/white control deck in the style of Weissman now frantically Impulsed for ways to deal with a turn 1 Cursed Scroll.
Blue/white control decks got buried for a long time by mono red. When they would finally surface again, they would be mono blue. Desperate control players shifted the base of their decks from utility spells to great gluts of countermagic just to survive the first few turns. Control shifted away from rationed skill to”counter everything!”
Mono red was the”clock.” It goldfished at 4-6 turns. If your deck could not win or gain control of the game by the turn 5 mark, you had to work at it until it could – or abandon it. Wrath of God and Nevinyrral’s Disk could no longer contain red. If red had card advantage, it won. If it had card disadvantage, it funneled that into a Cursed Scroll and won anyway. If you tapped low to cast anything, you lost to celerity creatures and burn. If you didn’t cast anything, you lost to hordes of cheap weenies.
Unless you won the game on turn 3.
Red’s primary problem is obvious. It has mucho death and no disruption. Any combo deck that can kill before red deals the final hammering can twiddle itself in peace for four turns without worrying.
Up from mindless fast creature death came combo fast kill death, the only viable solution within the parameters of four turns. We couldn’t beat them because we got pathetic disruption. So we had to join them.
One of the cardinal rules of countermagic is that countermagic should not cost more than the spells it is expected to disrupt. Why wasn’t Force Spike good before? Because we had good counterspells like Force of Will and before that, Mana Drain. We’re forced to use these poor excuses for countermagic because Dismiss and Rewind are too damned expensive.
So where has all this led us? It has led us to the land of a game that has no end-game, nor middle-game. It is a game of four turns. It is a game of limited options. It is a game about drawing your fast kill faster.
Will the future bring us another turn of the screw, a deck that wins even faster even more consistently, setting us a new benchmark to test our decks against?
God, I hope not.
Study Extended And Grow Strong
The first thing that struck me about post-Mirrodin Extended is how the outcry over it so closely mirrors that regarding post-Mirrodin Type I.
In”The State of the Metagame Address,” you might remember how my opinion poll turned out:
Cards you think should be restricted
- Oscar Tan, a.k.a. Rakso: Mishra’s Workshop, Chalice of the Void, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, (errata) Illusionary Mask, Bazaar of Baghdad, and watch Psychatog and Academy Rector
- Eric Wilkinson: Mishra’s Workshop, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, Intuition, Bazaar of Baghdad, and errata Illusionary Mask so it doesn’t defeat counters
- Joshua Reynolds, a.k.a. Sliverking: Mishra’s Workshop, Burning Wish, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, Intuition, Academy Rector, and watch Dark Ritual
- Shane Stoots, a.k.a. TripleS: Mishra’s Workshop, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, Intuition
- Darren Di Battista, a.k.a. Azhrei: Mishra’s Workshop, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault
- David Allen, a.k.a. Thorme: Lion’s Eye Diamond, and watch Chalice of the Void, Chrome Mox, and Spoils of the Vault
- JP”Polluted” Meyer: Chrome Mox and watch Spoils of the Vault
- Carl Devos: Watch Chrome Mox
- Brian Weissman: Mishra’s Workshop, Burning Wish, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, Chrome Mox, (errata) Illusionary Mask, Academy Rector, Cunning Wish
- Raphael Caron, a.k.a. K-Run: Mishra’s Workshop, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Intuition, Mana Drain, and watch Dark Ritual
- Chris Flaaten: Mishra’s Workshop, Burning Wish, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault
- Matthieu Durand, a.k.a. Toad: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, and watch Mishra’s Workshop, Chalice of the Void, Intuition, and Bazaar of Baghdad
- Kenny Oberg: Mishra’s Workshop, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual
- Benjamin Rott, a.k.a. Teletubby: Burning Wish, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox
- Jamie Schnitzius, a.k.a. Grendal: Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault, Intuition
- Arthur Tindemans: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, Spoils of the Vault
- Carsten Kotter, a.k.a. Mon, Goblin Chief: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Chrome Mox, and watch Mishra’s Workshop and Spoils of the Vault
Now, compare these Type I opinions to The Ferrett post-New Orleans interview regarding Extended:
Cards you think should be banned:
- Rob Dougherty: Hermit Druid, Goblin Recruiter, Chrome Mox, Tinker, Goblin Charbelcher, Isochron Scepter, Exhume, Life / Death, Reanimate, watch Psychatog
- Mikey Pustilnik: Hermit Druid, Goblin Recruiter, Chrome Mox, Tinker, Goblin Charbelcher
- Kai Budde: Goblin Recruiter, Grim Monolith, Chrome Mox
- Gabriel Nassif: Grim Monolith or Tinker, Goblin Charbelcher
- Mike Turian: Goblin Warchief, Chrome Mox, Tinker
- Tomi Walamies: Grim Monolith, Goblin Warchief
- Osyp Lebedovicz: Watch Chrome Mox
- The Ferrett: Tinker – reporters can’t take more of the agony! – and Goblin Recruiter
Mirrodin, it seems, is the new Urza’s Saga.
What I fail to understand is why people pooh-pooh Type I players who call for a brake on the format’s still-unrestricted broken tempo cards and call them”casual” players, but not bat an eye when Kai Budde says:”I hate the format. Basically, if you want to win, you have to build a deck that wins on turn 2 or turn 3, and if you do that it always becomes really inconsistent.”
It’s pretty much the same problem in Type I.
But hey, I like being on the same side of the argument as Kai Budde.
Three-turn games have not proven healthy for the format. This was the problem Cathy Nicoloff decried in 1998 Type II, the same problem in the 1999 Type I combo mania, and still the same problem seen in Extended today.
Ban Extended and use Online Extended instead? Whoa!
Some people claim that there’s nothing wrong with a metagame where decks have to be set up by Turn 2 at the latest, and New Orleans proves that this simply doesn’t wash. The assertion that Magic isn’t meant to be an interactive game is hogwash, too. If Kai Budde and many other prominent pros would support Extended bannings, then it’s hard to argue that the metagame has simply not been explored.
It’s not so much that the game is no longer”fun” as though that word is the tournament player’s epithet, but overly accelerated games simply amplify the effects of opening hand strength, mulligans and who goes first, and diminishes the effect of play skill once you’ve had a few solitaire runs with your deck.
What can we say?
To the lead designer of Mirrodin, the next time you think of something nice like designing cards specifically for Type I, don’t?
Back to Basics
If Extended might see another round of bannings, however, then you can imagine someone in the DCI will think to look at Type I as well.
This makes it very important to understand the game’s most fundamental principles:
Back to Basics #3: “Counting Card Advantage” (with clarifications in #4)
Back to Basics #5: “Counting Tempo, Part I” (land drops)
Back to Basics #6: “Counting Tempo, Part II” (untap phases)
Back to Basics #7: “Counting Tempo, Part III” (attack phases)
Over the years, the DCI has become wise to broken card advantage, with Necropotence finally getting on the list and Fact or Fiction restricted in a relatively short time. However, the good thing now is that the DCI is also becoming wise to abuse of the game’s other fundamental principle: Tempo. This is reflected in banning even Goblin Lackey, which is really a tempo card that can be more powerful than Mishra’s Workshop if Siege-Gang Commander is in hand.
Figuring out what to ban (or restrict) is a delicate operation, with the funny result that you might ban something only to see that something in turn has to be banned next, or that with the new ban, an old ban is unnecessary. Further, it’s easy enough to make mistakes.
With the first incarnation of Extended Trix, for example, DCI did not immediately ban Necropotence. For the Type I version, some old players (including myself) actually felt Necropotence should be left alone and Illusions of Grandeur should be errata’d so it wouldn’t work with Donate.
Nevertheless, Necropotence’s abuse of the rules is indubitable today, and after New Orleans, it’s hard to argue the banning of Dark Ritual and Mana Vault (and even their restriction for Type I).
Interviewed at New Orleans, Rob Dougherty said,”When they ban, I think they ban the wrong things. When you ban a card, you have to look at the cards and say, ‘What’s too powerful for its mana cost?’ – but what Wizards is doing is looking at decks and banning the key cards in popular decks, like Dark Ritual. They should be looking for undercosted effects and banning them.”
Aside from woefully undercosted spells, however, you have the other tempo angle of simply having too many good mana accelerators that give you too many land drops too early, to the point that the value of Turn 1 is greatly skewed. Imagine, for example, how Ancient Tomb + Grim Monolith mirrors somewhat Mishra’s Workshop + Mox in Type I. With Goblin Welder seeing quite a bit of play, the resemblance is uncanny.
Everyone assumed that Chrome Mox would be automatically restricted for Mirrodin, but New Orleans truly makes you wonder why it was printed in the first place. I wrote it off as a sure combo piece (and a plus Land Tax-based decks), but I underestimated its interaction with Chalice of the Void. Chrome Mox is even easier to fit into a deck than Mox Diamond because it can directly substitute for a land slot. This easy fit lets decks use it to break their mana curves to dilute Chalice. The end result here is an even more broken mana accelerator than first perceived.
You know that R&D does not test Type I, and they only test a little of Extended, but you wonder what Chrome Mox was for exactly. The cute acceleration has limited impact in smaller card pools like Block and Type II… But as you can see, it wreaks havoc in Type I and Extended where the cheap cards of newer sets meet their predecessors. With Chrome Mox legal and unrestricted in Type I now, it goes a long way towards helping people push the Turn 2 flashpoint even further back.
Chrome Mox is an obvious culprit, but it’s not the only one. Tinker is more than a tutor since it’s a subtle tempo card, for example. For three mana and an additional card, it makes the high casting costs of artifacts like Mindslaver irrelevant. However, it can simply give you land drops. Consider, for example, a Tinker for a Gilded Lotus followed by a couple more things. Without missing a beat this turn, you just went up three colored land drops for next turn. It’s a bit like Frantic Search.
With the increasing importance of tempo, you shouldn’t be curious to see plays like a first-turn Force Spike on Grim Monolith, much in the same way classic Type II Draw-Go would Force Spike Birds of Paradise just to keep pace with the opponent’s tempo.
Thus, you hope DCI gets it right in the next restriction announcement, and makes a credible appraisal of tempo for both Extended and Type I.
Again, I like being on the same side as Kai Budde.
Tricks From Extended
Just as Block can feed Type II, you should never forget that Extended can feed Type I, and shouldn’t be above looking for tech from these Pro Tours.
Consider that Hulk Smash began as a joke by JP”Polluted” Meyer, who simply proposed Eugene Harvey’s Extended ‘Tog build as a new deck to toy around with. Indeed, we all initially dismissed Psychatog as too hard to protect compared to Morphling – and even when I asked John Ormerod, the initial feedback was to remember that Fact or Fiction is restricted in Type I and that three-damage Lightning Bolts (as opposed to two-damage Shocks in Extended) make ‘Tog tougher to use.
Tinker Stax, Rickard Osterberg, Champion, Pro Tour: New Orleans 2003 (Extended)
1 Bosh, Iron Golem
4 Goblin Welder
1 Platinum Angel
2 Chromatic Sphere
1 Citanul Flute
1 Gilded Lotus
4 Grim Monolith
3 Lightning Greaves
4 Tangle Wire
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Voltaic Key
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
3 City of Brass
4 Shivan Reef
2 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
3 Defense Grid
1 Elf Replica
3 Rack and Ruin
2 Shattering Pulse
4 Welding Jar
If anything, the latest Extended tech shows that the restriction of Mishra’s Workshop will not kill artifact prison decks, even if you consider that Type I has Force of Will but no unrestricted Tinker and Grim Monolith. Indeed, if you can replace dual lands with lands like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors (as MUD decks already use), artifact looks like a stronger”color.”
Beyond mana bases, however, you have to consider that the format differences. Tinker is unrestricted in Extended, so you can build a toolbox-type deck. Type I Workshop decks don’t have unrestricted Tinker, but they have even more broken acceleration so they just run more redundant threats and lock pieces. Further, the lack of Tinker, the presence of Gorilla Shaman in”The Deck” and possibly Sligh, and various nonbasic hate discourages artifact lands.
Of course, the lack of Tinker also decreases the value of trick artifacts such as Mindslaver and Platinum Angel. The lesser importance of creatures including Goblin Welder also gives Lightning Greaves less weight. Finally, the interaction of Meditate with Smokestack and Tangle Wire means Thirst for Knowledge probably won’t get any slots.
As for the combo builds, however, Goblin Charbelcher/Mana Severance is good, but we have a lot more that is broken.
Mono brown, Jordan Berkowitz, Day 2, Pro Tour New Orleans 2003 (Extended)
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Sphere of Resistance
4 Tangle Wire
2 Sculpting Steel
4 Grafted Skullcap
2 Mishra’s Helix
1 Karn, Silver Golem
4 Myr Incubator
4 Grim Monolith
3 Thran Dynamo
4 Voltaic Key
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
4 Crystal Vein
4 Rishadan Port
4 Ensnaring Bridge
4 Welding Jar
Of course, you can get the suspicion that in rare cases, maybe Type I feeds Extended, with a certain concept shining in the larger card pool first. The deck Berkowitz ran strongly reminds you of all-artifact decks that have Top 8’d Dulmen, and MUD without the Welder. Rishadan Port probably isn’t replacing Petrified Field, though.
Psychatog, Tomohiro Yokosuka, Top 16, Pro Tour New Orleans 2003 (Extended)
4 Mana Leak
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Fact or Fiction
3 Cunning Wish
4 Isochron Scepter
4 Chrome Mox
4 Polluted Delta
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Darkwater Catacombs
1 Underground River
1 Sulfurous Springs
4 Shivan Reef
1 Corpse Dance
1 Diabolic Edict
3 Engineered Plague
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Orim’s Chant
2 Rack and Ruin
1 Shattering Pulse
1 Tsabo’s Decree
Oath, Gabe Walls, Top 16, Pro Tour New Orleans 2003
2 Mana Leak
2 Fact or Fiction
3 Cunning Wish
4 Isochron Scepter
4 Oath of Druids
2 Krosan Reclamation
3 Moment’s Peace
4 Chrome Mox
1 Flooded Strand
2 Shivan Reef
4 Treetop Village
2 Wooded Foothills
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Dust Bowl
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Hunting Pack
1 Rack and Ruin
1 Shattering Pulse
1 Teferi’s Response
Combo decks aren’t really catching me, unless you can translate one of them such as Angry Hermit into something stronger than, say, Dragon. You have Spoils of the Vault and Chrome Mox – both still unrestricted – to work with in Type I, but you have to come up with a deck that’s both better and still Chalice-proof.
A bit of old (in Type I) tech like Cunning Wish for Orim’s Chant is observed in the control builds, but what catches me is multiples of Chrome Mox and Isochron Scepter. Chrome Mox may well be stronger than first perceived outside of combo, and with tempo more important than ever, trading a card for one permanent mana earlier is likewise stronger in the early game. Scepter, on the other hand, hasn’t been explored in that many copies, and a few key instants such as Swords to Plowshares and Red Elemental Blast aren’t even Extended-legal.
Chrome Mox is strong because it can replace a land slot in a straightforward manner, unlike Mox Diamond. However, in many conventional control decks, a land slot just has to produce more than one color of mana. Chrome Mox is probably not for”The Deck,” which has a full complement of Moxen anyway, but if someone develops a control deck with less colors, maybe it’ll strengthen that. The Imprint is made easier with cards like Psychatog and Fire/Ice.
Finally, it’d be nice to see how the metagame compensates around the present Tier I Extended decks. For example, will more disruption aside from Chalice of the Void shake up the Tiers again, even before the next set of anticipated bannings?
Looking at a brand new Extended metagame, we discussed that you can pick the format for Type I ideas. On rarer occasions, Type I ideas can inspire Extended decks. However, problems cropping up in the new Extended closely mirror those in Type I. The principles behind the solutions should be the same, and both formats should be scrutinized very carefully.
If anything, the problems in Extended make for a good opportunity to call for more transparency in DCI’s decision-making process. Extended bannings are easy to justify, despite DCI’s notoriously terse banning explanations. You have ready player interviews and playtest results from established circuits patronized by Pros. You have no such thing in Type I – and all you have to go on are the explanations of the few Type I writers and more vocal players. To this day, no one is completely sure what the restriction criteria really is.
To end, let me reiterate I’m a big fan of 5-Color’s restriction process, and do follow Abe Sargent columns along these lines.
Till next week,
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
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